My back about to break from the pressure of my bag, I hoist it onto my hip. My hand aggressively unzips its front pocket. It plunges inside and hunts endlessly. My hand rubs against its synthetic walls. It traverses past the heap of useless things hoarded there. I try to feel for its rough, fibrous texture. A tassel. I should have replaced it a long time ago. Its bright turquoise color had faded into a muddy brown while its filaments were reduced to limp strands of thread. It had fallen off its key chain a month ago. I refused to throw out this abused object. It was just as comfortable with the absolute disaster that was my bag as I was contented with its ugliness. Its withered fibers were my hand’s only indication it had found my key.
My mother had given me this key chain years ago as a token of maternal affection. The tassel had been a twin to a porcelain heart. It was strung to the tassel’s chain and was hand-painted with folkloric images of birds and flowers—lovely. But I dropped it on the floor one day and it shattered. I never told her that I broke her heart. Looking back, I wonder if it was even an accident; maybe I deliberately released it. I cried. Pleasure and pain are always interwoven when you crave freedom. So, I put a rubber band through the residual strands of the tassel and looped them onto the key, tightening them together. Finally, my impatient fingers find what they have been looking for. Key, let me open my door and lay on my bed. Let me rest. I re-direct my key’s attention to the keyhole. I plunge it into the door. I stand at its threshold and breath. Now…where is my charger?
Imperceptible. Incredible. Unbelievable. Another spider! Another female yellow sac spider—on my bed this time. I had welcomed the network of Cheiracanthium inclusum to remain unharmed on my walls, my plants, windows, books, and floor as if my room were a garden. I accorded them amnesty. You are hunters, I understand. You have protected my garden well from pests. I even enjoyed your company a little. But I never allowed you to come into my holy place, into my bed. Never have one of you so artfully dared to camouflage yourself with the yellow flower pattern of my duvet. You know…it was only the faintest change in light that gave you away. I am sure you could have succeeded. I may have tightened my boots’ laces too snugly. My feet are spellbound. What were you planning to do?
I cannot crush you on my pillow—that is gross. All your insides sprawled where I lay my cheek to sleep? No. And you know this about me. I remain immobilized, sweating. You must all be watching me with your eight orbs and liberating silent laughs seeing me so distressed. “Down with the Maiden of the Garden!” I hear them chant. The traitorous devil waits for me. Impossible. Infuriating. She waits. Dripping sweat, discomfort, and nausea consume me. As you take a step towards me, the bed disappears. In the light, your miniscule figure reveals a paper- like transparent womb. You cradle your venom lovingly. Like origami, your body folds into the rematerialized yellow flowers of my duvet. The dorm room rattles with drunken yelling. A sprightly woman in yellow with black hair glares at me. Une vraie sorcière. Your devilish eyes betray your adorable appearance. High on fear and hope, I imagine your black silhouette removing its grotesque veil of ill will.
You move ever so slightly onto my duvet. As I scream again, you are paralyzed. I don’t hate you, I’m afraid of you. Your delicate frame reminds me of a room and a place I know well. Your beautiful body is a shade of the faded yellow wallpaper from that summerhouse. June to August—it’s all faded yellow now…
I met a pink cloud in June. I was subletting a room in her apartment my last summer of college. She was tall and pale with a mound of stringy, rose filaments—soft pink tassels sewed onto her scalp. It was the prettiest hair I had ever seen. She goes by Ami. But her name is Ameline. It was raining when I first spoke to her on the street. I knew who she was from our mutual friends but she never bothered to learn my face. “Hello, my name is Clementine. I will be living in your apartment, when can I leave my things and get a key?” Her clouded eyes and damp hair don’t see me. “Whenever.” She takes my umbrella and walks away. I had trouble understanding myself in that moment. My visible hate and dumbstruck expression didn’t express my mind’s true indifference. I forgave her everything before I even knew I would ever come to care for her.
I return to my old room teeming with packed boxes and fling myself onto my naked mattress. I was going to leave this place to live somewhere new—even if it was only to a house a few blocks down the street. Not a big deal. Yet a sudden feeling of dread came over me. I unlock my phone and stare at my wet, reflected image in Snapchat. Snap. What do I write? Nothing. No one will understand. In need of distraction, I play a little game of espionage. I listen in on the neighbors below moving out. I can hear everything through the heating vents. A mosquito drinks a nip from me. I had spent the previous days depressingly reviewing memories of my graduated friends and my unfinished business with a boy. I am a rather cold and cautious person, yet I did not want to be alone. I call my friend Justine. “Please come over.” With her boy-short hair and bright red lips, she lets herself in. We spend the rest of the night watching episodes of Gilmore Girls, eating pizza, and talking about summer plans.
When we met that previous winter, I never imagined I could find someone at school who felt like a sister. We were both mutts. We had French in common, a language to use in secret, to whisper into each other’s hearts. We spoke of our deepest fears of resenting our mothers, of pitying our fathers, of repelling our siblings, of not knowing what we want from life, and of never fully belonging anywhere. Typical angst. I am neither French nor Cuban, neither woman nor girl, neither weak nor strong. Homeless. Bodiless. Sexual-less. Magic-less. When Justine would inch towards me, I would step back. What was she trying? My body is petrified. Why do I always act like a virgin about everything? I had only liked one boy my whole life. “Difficile,” my mother would say.
“Ami, I am downstairs.” That day I forgot my key at work. I had been living with her and her friends for three weeks already. My routine was set: come home from work, cook dinner, shower, invite Justine over, and lock ourselves in my room to watch a movie. I wanted to evade the sounds of laughter from the living room where Ami performed. I never knew how to play with flashier children. But that day when my tassel and key were not by my side, I was forced to walk past the guests and introduce myself: “Hello, my name is Clementine.” Compulsively, I scurried back into my room. That night the laughter was so seductive that it filled my room with smoke and pure intoxication. Justine refused to watch a movie and walked into the convivial living room.
Endless talking. Talk, talk, talk. That is all they did for days. I stood in the shadow and watched—both in admiration and in jealousy. My mother came to mind often during that time. To that broken porcelain heart. Ami, a distant pink cloud, and I would avoid each other in the house. Justine started to lock herself in Ami’s room of faded yellow wallpaper. Daily, limb-by- limb I crawled from my bed and delicately pressed my ear to the wall to catch their secrets. What magic do they weave into their web of words? What language could Justine and Ami possibly speak?
It was not a language like French or Chinese, nor was it a programming language everyone seems to be so fascinated by in my generation. Ami and Justine spoke a language of human symbols. It was a spirit. It was witchcraft. Sit, read, study, and listen…your Saturn is in the fourth house, your Venus is in the 12th house of secrets, Mercury is retrograde, your card is reversed, Queen of Swords, your biggest hope and fear is…all words without meaning unless you possessed the key. This complex form of communication and analysis left us all exhausted. There were days I no longer wanted to hear about any conjunctions, squares, or oppositions. I shut down. I wanted to silence my chart like I silence my desires. My Saturn is in my fourth house: difficult childhood, repressed, absent mother, ill but loving father, and lack of confidence. My Venus is in my 12th house: sacrifice, fall for unavailable partners, love blindly, and feeling unloved…etcetera. It stripped me naked for Ami and Justine to see and I hated it. I hated what I read in my chart. But it never strayed too far away from my mind. So I studied until I spoke their language. All these symbols were offering me a solution.
My whole life I was alienated for having so many “Clementines”—for having too many identities, heritages, complexities, and crying spells. Too often, I chose silence when I actually had so many ways that I could speak. That summer, I found that I adopted a fourth identity and heritage by choice. I had to find the courage to open Ami’s door and find her and Justine lying side by side, whispering and laughing like little girls beneath ever-watchful yellow wallpaper. Short black curly hair mixed with a pink cloud. The summer heat of the room made me inhale deeper. I need air. Like a hand ambushing the heat of a freshly brewed cup of tea, chills ran up my arm. Mosquitos buzzing. I join them. I let the faded wallpaper ambush us.
Ameline. Justine. And Clementine. -Ine. All of our fathers’ names are Ed. Strange. –Ine. Justine. Clementine. Ameline. All of us were afraid something. –Ine. Clementine. Ameline. Justine. We wanted so desperately to rescue each other. With my camera, I captured their eternal performances. It was my own kind of performance. Whether at the beach playing in the reeds or crawling on a billiards table while it poured outside during the 4th of July, I captured them. Ameline never stole my umbrella again—unless it was for me to photograph her dancing with it. If it rained, I let her come under mine while Justine preferred yelling and racing rambunctiously down the street. Her playful, expecting gaze was enough to deliver her command. She wanted us to watch her forever. That is when I think she began to lose it. She began to imagine herself the Queen of Wands. The man with all the power. The spider on my bed.
Unsolicited, she began to spin her thread around our throats. She whirled her web into our mouths. All of a sudden Ami and I become the tiny little spider. We can barely see with our eight eyes. Who is this giant looming over us? Where did our magic powers go? We lay dormant under your shadow, your slow mental disintegration. Justine is capricious. As she attempts to mother us, she spreads her venom. You cry for nothing. You yell for nothing. You blame for nothing. I am nothing. You are nothing. We are nothing now, Justine. My dreams grow increasingly vivid and the fruit flies in the kitchen procreate. Ami and I tiptoe around this giant human. Let us leave a trail of ants behind. Ami and I will comfort each other in silence as her rage continues. Shhh…No Maman, I don’t need you.
And then it is Justine’s going away party. Justine, with her boy-short hair and her bright red lips, lets herself in. Wine, wine, and more wine. She gives Ami and I a piñata to hit. We hit it hard. We stab it so hard with our bat that candy explodes from its cardboard belly. We smile in exalted pleasure. Justine’s eyes meet mine and I am full of rage. I know her madness. I know why she gave us that piñata. I stare into my reflection. “Ami, this is weird.” “I know.” Surrounded by her guests, Justine performs. She dances with her eyes locked on ours. She wants me to look and be envious. Perhaps she wanted me to want her. I can never know. What happened? Her red lipstick is smeared on her chin and her eyeliner runs down her left cheek. A silverfish dashes. I want to watch a movie. I watch Justine grab Ameline’s arm to dance. Antennae to antennae. Ami resists. She rebels and tells her to stop. What dark magic is this? Justine drags her body to the stairs and yells at her: “Did you not enjoy my final performance?” Ameline can only stay silent. And then, nothing. Shock? Horror? I cannot tell. I cradle Ameline’s bruised body and try to make her laugh. Just a little. Justine pushed her down the stairs.
Now, little spider. Cheiracanthium inclusum. I wiggle the sheets so that the spider is no longer disguised by my duvet’s yellow flowers. I tugged too hard—the spider teeters at the edge of my bed. Scared? I was too. I am sorry little spider but this is my holy place and you will not fool me too. This is my bed and I want to watch a movie without you. Fine…I’ll forgive you. You can stay…but only down there. One more wiggle. I push you off my bed. Fall. A thought flashes. What if her paper-like body was holding life and not venom? I freeze in guilt. I am so sorry!
When I see you are not moving, I begin to worry. I bend down to make sure that you are okay.
Wait. Long, slender legs; tiny body. You are not a female spider. Suddenly the yellow sac male charges. Before I can listen to my heart, I stand up and stomp.